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Poems About Art

Table of Contents

  1. A Water Color by Bliss Carman
  2. A Painter's Holiday by Bliss Carman
  3. Mirage by Bliss Carman
  4. Life and Art by Sir Charles George Douglas Roberts
  5. Colors by Stephen Vincent Benét
  6. Art and Heart by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
  7. L'envoi by John Charles McNeill
  8. Inspiration by Ruby Archer

  1. A Water Color

    by Bliss Carman

    There's a picture in my room
    Lightens many an hour of gloom, —

    Cheers me under fortune's frown
    And the drudgery of town.

    Many and many a winter day
    When my soul sees all things gray,

    Here is veritable June,
    Heart's content and spirit's boon.

    It is scarce a hand-breadth wide,
    Not a span from side to side,

    Yet it is an open door
    Looking back to joy once more,

    Where the level marshes lie,
    A quiet journey of the eye,

    And the unsubstantial blue
    Makes the fine illusion true.

    So I forth and travel there
    In the blessed light and air,

    Miles of green tranquillity
    Down the river to the sea.

    Here the sea-birds roam at will,
    And the sea-wind on the hill

    Brings the hollow pebbly roar
    From the dim and rosy shore,

    With the very scent and draft
    Of the old sea's mighty craft.

    I am standing on the dunes,
    By some charm that must be June's,

    When the magic of her hand
    Lays a sea-spell on the land.

    And the old enchantment falls
    On the blue-gray orchard walls

    And the purple high-top boles,
    While the orange orioles

    Flame and whistle through the green
    Of that paradisal scene.

    Strolling idly for an hour
    Where the elder is in flower,

    I can hear the bob-white call
    Down beyond the pasture wall.

    Musing in the scented heat,
    Where the bayberry is sweet,

    I can see the shadows run
    Up the cliff-side in the sun.

    Or I cross the bridge and reach
    The mossers' houses on the beach,

    Where the bathers on the sand
    Lie sea-freshened and sun-tanned.

    Thus I pass the gates of time
    And the boundaries of clime,

    Change the ugly man-made street
    For God's country green and sweet.

    Fag of body, irk of mind,
    In a moment left behind,

    Once more I possess my soul
    With the poise and self-control

    Beauty gives the free of heart
    Through the sorcery of art.

  2. A Painter's Holiday

    by Bliss Carman

    We painters sometimes strangely keep
    These holidays. When life runs deep
    And broad and strong, it comes to make
    Its own bright-colored almanack.
    Impulse and incident divine
    Must find their way through tone and line;
    The throb of color and the dream
    Of beauty, giving art its theme
    From dear life's daily miracle,
    Illume the artist's life as well.

    A bird-note, or a turning leaf,
    The first white fall of snow, a brief
    Wild song from the Anthology,
    A smile, or a girl's kindling eye,—
    And there is worth enough for him
    To make the page of history dim.
    Who knows upon what day may come
    The touch of that delirium
    Which lifts plain life to the divine,
    And teaches hand the magic line
    No cunning rule could ever reach,
    Where Soul's necessities find speech?
    None knows how rapture may arrive
    To be our helper, and survive
    Through our essay to help in turn
    All starving eager souls who yearn

    Lightward discouraged and distraught.
    Ah, once art's gleam of glory caught
    And treasured in the heart, how then
    We walk enchanted among men,
    And with the elder gods confer!
    So art is hope's interpreter,
    And with devotion must conspire
    To fan the eternal altar fire.
    Wherefore you find me here to-day,
    Not idling the good hours away,
    But picturing a magic hour
    With its replenishment of power.

    Conceive a bleak December day,
    The streets all mire, the sky all gray,
    And a poor painter trudging home
    Disconsolate, when what should come
    Across his vision, but a line
    On a bold-lettered play-house sign,
    A Persian Sun Dance.

    In he turns.
    A step, and there the desert burns
    Purple and splendid; molten gold
    The streamers of the dawn unfold,
    Amber and amethyst uphurled
    Above the far rim of the world;
    The long-held sound of temple bells
    Over the hot sand steals and swells;

    A lazy tom-tom throbs and dones
    In barbarous maddening monotones;
    While sandal incense blue and keen
    Hangs in the air. And then the scene
    Wakes, and out steps, by rhythm released,
    The sorcery of all the East,
    In rose and saffron gossamer, —
    A young light-hearted worshipper
    Who dances up the sun. She moves
    Like waking woodland flower that loves
    To greet the day. Her lithe, brown curve
    Is like a sapling's sway and swerve
    Before the spring wind. Her dark hair
    Framing a face vivid and rare,
    Curled to her throat and then flew wild,
    Like shadows round a radiant child.
    The sunlight from her cymbals played
    About her dancing knees, and made
    A world of rose-lit ecstasy,
    Prophetic of the day to be.

    Such mystic beauty might have shone
    In Sardis or in Babylon,
    To bring a Satrap to his doom
    Or touch some lad with glory's bloom.
    And now it wrought for me, with sheer
    Enchantment of the dying year,
    Its irresistible reprieve
    From joylessness on New Year's Eve.

  3. Mirage

    by Bliss Carman

    Here hangs at last, you see, my row
    Of sketches,—all I have to show
    Of one enchanted summer spent
    In sweet laborious content,
    At little 'Sconset by the moors,
    With the sea thundering by its doors,
    Its grassy streets, and gardens gay
    With hollyhocks and salvia.

    And here upon the easel yet,
    With the last brush of paint still wet,
    (Showing how inspiration toils),
    Is one where the white surf-line boils
    Along the sand, and the whole sea
    Lifts to the skyline, just to be
    The wondrous background from whose verge
    Of blue on blue there should emerge
    This miracle.

    One day of days
    I strolled the silent path that strays
    Between the moorlands and the beach
    From Siasconset, till you reach
    Tom Nevers Head, the lone last land
    That fronts the ocean, lone and grand
    As when the Lord first bade it be
    For a surprise and mystery.
    A sailless sea, a cloudless sky,
    The level lonely moors, and I
    The only soul in all that vast
    Of color made intense to last!
    The small white sea-birds piping near;
    The great soft moor-winds; and the dear
    Bright sun that pales each crest to jade,
    Where gulls glint fishing unafraid.

    Here man, the godlike, might have gone
    With his deep thought, on that wild dawn
    When the first sun came from the sea,
    Glowing and kindling the world to be,
    While time began and joy had birth, —
    No wilder sweeter spot on earth!

    As I sat there and mused (the way
    We painters waste our time, you say!)
    On the sheer loneliness and strength
    Whence life must spring, there came at length
    Conviction of the helplessness
    Of earth alone to ban or bless.
    I saw the huge unhuman sea;
    I heard the drear monotony
    Of the waves beating on the shore
    With heedless, futile strife and roar,
    Without a meaning or an aim.
    And then a revelation came,
    In subtle, sudden, lovely guise,
    Like one of those soft mysteries
    Of Indian jugglers, who evoke
    A flower for you out of smoke.
    I knew sheer beauty without soul
    Could never be perfections goal,
    Nor satisfy the seeking mind
    With all it longs for and must find
    One day. The lovely things that haunt
    Our senses with an aching want,
    And move our souls, are like the fair
    Lost garmernts of a soul somewhere.
    Nature is naught, if not the veil
    Of some great good that must prevail
    And break in joy, as woods of spring
    Break into song and blossoming.

    But what makes that great goodness start
    Within ourselves? When leaps the heart
    With gladness, only then we know
    Why lovely Nature travails so,—
    Why art must persevere and pray
    In her incomparable way.
    In all the world the only worth
    Is human happiness; its dearth
    The darkest ill. Let joyance be,
    And there is God's sufficiency, —
    Such joy as only can abound
    Where the heart's comrade has been found

    That was my thought. And then the sea
    Broke in upon my revery
    With clamorous beauty, —the superb
    Eternal noun that takes no verb
    But love. The heaven of dove-like blue
    Bent o'er the azure, round and true
    As magic sphere of crystal glass,
    Where faith sees plain the pageant pass
    Of things unseen. So I beheld
    The sheer sky-arches domed and belled,
    As if the sea were the very floor
    Of heaven where walked the gods of yore
    In Plato's imagery, and I
    Uplifted saw their pomps go by.

    The House of space and time grew tense
    As if with rapture's imminence,
    When truth should be at last made clear,
    And the great worth of life appear;
    While I, a worshipper at the shrine,
    For very longing grew divine,
    Borne upward on earth's ecstasy,
    And welcomed by the boundless sky.

    A mighty prescience seemed to brood
    Over that tenuous solitude
    Yearning for form, till it became
    Vivid as dream and live as flame,
    Through magic art could never match,
    The vision I have tried to catch, —
    All earth's delight and meaning grown
    A lyric presence loved and known.

    How otherwise could time evolve
    Young courage, or the high resolve,
    Or gladness to assuage and bless
    The soul's austere great loneliness,
    Than by providing her somehow
    With sympathy of hand and brow,
    And bidding her at last go free,
    Companioned through eternity?

    So there appeared before my eyes,
    In a beloved, familiar guise,
    A vivid, questing human face
    In profile, scanning heaven for grace,
    Up-gazing there against the blue
    With eyes that heaven itself shone through;
    The lips soft-parted, half in prayer,
    Half confident of kindness there;
    A brow like Plato's made for dream
    In some immortal Academe,
    And tender as a happy girl's;
    A full dark head of clustered curls
    Round as an emperor's, where meet
    Repose and ardor, strong and sweet,
    Distilling from a mind unmarred
    The glory of her rapt regard.

    So eager Mary might have stood,
    In love's adoring attitude,
    And looked into the angel's eyes
    With faith and fearlessness, all wise
    In soul's unfaltering innocence,
    Sure in her woman's supersense
    Of things only the humble know.
    My vision looks forever so.

    In other years when men shall say,
    "What was the painter's meaning, pray?
    Why all this vast of sea and space,
    Just to enframe a woman's face?"
    Here is the pertinent reply,
    "What better use for earth and sky?"

    The great archangel passed that way
    Illuming life with mystic ray.
    Not Lippo's self nor Raphael
    Had lovelier, realer things to tell
    Than I, beholding far away
    How all the melting rose and gray
    Upon the purple sea-line leaned
    About that head that intervened.

    How real was she? Ah, my friend,
    In art the fact and fancy blend
    Past telling. All the painter's task
    Is with the glory. Need we ask
    The tulips breaking through the mould
    To their untarnished age of gold,
    Whence their ideals were derived
    That have so gloriously survived?
    Flowers and painters both must give
    The hint they have received, to live, —
    Spend without stint the joy and power
    That lurk in each propitious hour, —
    Yet leave the why untold —God's way.

    My sketch is all I have to say.

  4. Life and Art

    by Sir Charles George Douglas Roberts

    Said Life to Art—"I love thee best
    Not when I find in thee
    My very face and form, expressed
    With dull fidelity,

    "But when in thee my craving eyes
    Behold continually
    The mystery of my memories
    And all I long to be."

  5. Colors

    by Stephen Vincent Benét

    The little man with the vague beard and guise
    Pulled at the wicket. "Come inside!" he said,
    "I'll show you all we've got now—it was size
    You wanted?—oh, dry colors! Well"—he led
    To a dim alley lined with musty bins,
    And pulled one fiercely. Violent and bold
    A sudden tempest of mad, shrieking sins
    Scarlet screamed out above the battered gold
    Of tins and picture-frames. I held my breath.
    He tugged another hard—and sapphire skies
    Spread in vast quietude, serene as death,
    O'er waves like crackled turquoise—and my eyes
    Burnt with the blinding brilliance of calm sea!
    "We're selling that lot there out cheap!" said he.

  6. Art and Heart

    by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

    Though critics may bow to art, and I am its own true lover,
    It is not art, but heart, which wins the wide world over.

    Though smooth be the heartless prayer, no ear in Heaven will mind it,
    And the finest phrase falls dead, if there is no feeling behind it.

    Though perfect the player's touch, little, if any he sways us,
    Unless we feel his heart throb through the music he plays us.

    Though the poet may spend his life in skilfully rounding a measure,
    Unless he writes from a full warm heart, he gives us little pleasure.

    So it is not the speech which tells, but the impulse which goes with the saying,
    And it is not the words of the prayer, but the yearning back of the praying.

    It is not the artist's skill, which into our soul comes stealing
    With a joy that is almost pain, but it is the player's feeling.

    And it is not the poet's song, though sweeter than sweet bells chiming,
    Which thrills us through and through, but the heart which beats under the rhyming.

    And therefore I say again, though I am art's own true lover,
    That it is not art, but heart, which wins the wide world over.

  7. L'envoi

    by John Charles McNeill

    God willed, who never needed speech,
    "Let all things be:"
    And, lo, the starry firmament
    And land and sea
    And his first thought of life that lives
    In you and me.

    His circle of eternity
    We see in part;
    Our spirits are his breath, our hearts
    Beat from his heart;
    Hence we have played as little gods
    And called it art.

    Lacking his power, we shared his dream
    Of perfect things;
    Between the tents of hope and sweet
    Have sat in ashes, but our souls
    Went forth on wings.

    Where life fell short of some desire
    In you and me,
    Feeling for beauty which our eyes
    Could never see,
    Behold, from out the void we willed
    That it should be,

    And sometimes dreamed our lisping songs
    Of humanhood
    Might voice his silent harmony
    Of waste and wood,
    And he, beholding his and ours,
    Might find it good.

  8. Inspiration

    by Ruby Archer

    How the composer thrills, when softly glides
    Across the waiting soul's attuned lyre
    An unthought melody, and there abides;
    Or when some lovely form, a dream half hides,
    Reveals itself, how glows the sculptor's heart of fire!

    When to the poet, seeking beauty, truth,
    And all that Pleasure wins from dimpled Mirth,—
    A new perception comes, of age or youth,
    Of Nature's coy caprice or random ruth—
    How all his being flowers with ecstasy at Fancy's birth!

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